11 April 2015 | rmax304823
Old Blue Eyes.
Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, at a time when Hoboken was the punch line of a joke, full of working men's saloons with sawdust floors, ethnically diverse -- blacks, Italians, Irish, and Jews. (Now it's a gentrified Yuppie paradise.) He worked his way up to lead singer with some big bands of the period -- Tommy Dorsey and Harry James -- before striking out on his own. He was picked up by MGM and made a few musicals for them. During the war years, he was a phenomenon of vernacular culture. We haven't seen anything like it recently, not since the Beatles and, before them, Elvis Presley. The skinny Sinatra and his bow ties were parodied in cartoons of the time, but it drove the adolescent girls wild.
After the war his career slumped, as careers will, and he took to boozing it up. His movies were flops. Until "From Here to Eternity" which brought him back to the top, chairman of the board, and he turned into the epitome of swinghood. Pals with Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, and others, his lingo entered the lexicon: "Ain't that a kick in the head?", "What a gas!", "Ring-a-ding-ding." And he more or less stayed there for the rest of his life.
The documentary is pretty comprehensive. We hear from his friends, his arrangers, and his ex wives. On the audio clips, his voice sounds more Hoboken than it does in his movies or public appearances. He speaks at a quicker pace and curses freely. There are extensive clips from a TV interview with Walter Cronkite. Taken together, they present an image of a down-to-earth singer with a humanitarian streak. He was anti-racist and anti-anti-Semitic. He did more than accept Jews. He ADMIRED them a great deal.
At 240 minutes, one is tempted to say there is nothing left to learn about the man. Except that there is. He was everything the film tells us he was, but he was also a man of immense ego. The film tells us that, yes, he palled around with Sam Giancanna but it doesn't tell us who Sam Giancanna was besides a good golfing buddy. The guy was a big-time mobster and murderer at a time when the Mafia had clout enough to sort of lean an election in John F. Kennedy's favor.
The word "bodyguard" appears nowhere, yet after becoming a powerful figure Sinatra was ordinarily accompanied by a couple of men the size of small mountains,. There are numerous anecdotes of people who fell afoul of Sinatra for virtually no reason. In his book, "Games People Play," Eric Berne describes an incident in which he found himself at some kind of girly show next to Sinatra's table. He leaned over and jokingly remarked, "I see you're as much a lecher as I am." Moments later, one of the mountain men approached Berne and asked if he would like to have to face rearranged. Peter Lawford received an angry night-time phone call accusing him of dating one of Sinatra's girls, which wasn't true, but it was no use for Crawford to deny it. He was out of the Rat Pack forever.
There is no clip of him being called before a congressional investigating committee and snarling back at them, "I am not a second-class citizen!" I was surprised that there wasn't more material on Sinatra's early years with the big bands. He evidently got along fine with Harry James but Dorsey treated him like a tool. And Sinatra's extra-marital love life isn't brought up -- Juliet Prowse and the rest. It must have been like a merry-go-round with a giant calliope pumping away in the background.
Personally, I always admired his voice, at least until he began to croak with age and was unable to hit the right note. I don't blame him for the condition, but he seemed not to recognize that he could no longer sing. I was never in his thrall but I learned something from listening to the orchestral arrangements behind his voice. It takes more talent to write and play music than it does to sing pop songs.
On the whole, I think the film does for Sinatra's personality what Sinatra's mob connections did for JFK. But, one thing -- it's never dull.